The Church Of Bey: Why Beyoncé In Concert Is A Religious Experience

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Some people find God. Others discover Beyoncé.

I believe in both -- taken in equal measures -- but until recently I had no idea how closely related they really were.

For years, I’ve admired the work of the bootylicious diva from afar, but I’d never seen her perform in person. As I prepared to attend the Global Citizen Festival last Saturday, I couldn’t help but share the news with my friends and coworkers.

Everyone asked if I’d been to one of her shows before. When I let it slip it was my first time seeing Beyoncé live, I got a universal response: “You’re going to cry.”

From HBO specials to Instagram reposts to ubiquitous coverage online, you’ve probably come across footage from one of Beyoncé’s concerts. You’ve seen tears rolling down the faces of screaming fans, inspired simply by her presence.

The pop star’s fan base, called the BeyHive, is as dedicated to its source of inspiration as any religious fanatic has ever been. Whereas God handed down commandments and ruled through leaders, Beyoncé rarely speaks publicly. She leaves her message open to translation.

Beyoncé, 34, is perhaps best known for rigorously, meticulously crafting her rise to glory. She keeps extensive recordings of nearly every moment of her life, public or private, and famously re-watches the tapes of her performances the second she gets back to her hotel room.

In light of what I knew, I went to Global Citizen fully expecting a professional athlete to take the stage.

Instead, what I witnessed was a deity.

The crowd that night was 60,000 strong and had been standing in the hot, early fall sun for upwards of five hours before Beyoncé took the stage. We were sweaty and dusty. We needed a savior.

And then, there she was. With a smile that could soothe even the most exhausted body, the Queen of Pop bestowed her presence on stage.

Beyoncé emerged from the blue light like the Virgin Mary herself, coming to save us from a world of dirt, sun and pushy tourists. The world might be messy and imperfect, but Beyoncé, with her impeccable stiletto boots and glittering leotard, had arrived to become the human symbol of all that is right with the world.

“So many people! Y’all look gorgeous!” she announced, strutting across the platform. “Right now I just want to soak up this moment. I feel so honored to be on this stage. So many brilliant, generous people out there. All my global citizens.”

And just like that, Beyoncé had claimed us as her own.

In her eyes we were perfect, the best people on Earth gathered for a charitable cause. Never mind that we were simultaneously elbowing the Pearl Jam fan next to us in hopes of a better view or scarfing down hummus in snack boxes from the concession stand.

She launched into “Love On Top,” inviting the crowd to snap along, and followed with “XO,” a song she often proclaims to be written about the support of her fans.

When the crowd screamed its adoration during the hit’s opening notes, Beyoncé didn’t hesitate to turn that positive energy around, cooing, “I love you more!”

“I’m going to sing a little something, and I want you all to repeat after me, okay? I can’t do this song without y’all,” Beyoncé added, tapping her heart with her hand. "I want you to know, if you’re all the way back there, I feel you and I hear you.”

What most people seek in his or her religious journey is salvation. We want to believe there’s a greater force than our own petty lives.

Love -- a great, all-encompassing love -- is our ultimate goal.

Beyoncé initiated the call-and-response chorus, a style first used by slaves and later popularized by preachers and church congregations. At that moment, my Internet-jaded self was surprised to find my eyes had betrayed me and filled with tears.

Yes, on the surface this was a pop diva’s benefit concert. On the other hand, something real was happening. Beyoncé was performing, putting in her so-called 9 to 5 at work, but those of us watching her in the audience felt an emotional bond that just can’t be faked.

Maybe it was the heat of the day, or the spirit of togetherness that Global Citizen promotes, but for an hour we had Beyoncé’s full attention. As a thank you, she made us feel seen.

The show goes on, and so does the powerhouse that is Beyoncé. I’m surprised to admit to shedding tears during a concert, but in a way not shocked at all.

Truly great art and deep faith both merit an emotional response. Love, in all of is forms, moves us to feel.